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So Much More Than a Major League City

26 Jun, 2019

By: Michael Popke

Arlington, Texas, might be America’s definitive major league city — with world-class venues that are home to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and MLB’s Texas Rangers, not to mention North America’s largest esports arena. But this city, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, also has become a go-to destination for organizations as diverse as the United States Australian Football Club and US Quidditch.

“We’re looking at all different types of sports,” says Matt Wilson, executive director of the Arlington Sports Commission. “We are diversifying our sports tourism portfolio. Arlington is inclusive of all things and all people, and we want to show love to all types of sports!”

Adding to the excitement is the highly anticipated Fall 2020 opening of the Arlington Independent School District’s Fine Arts and Athletics Complex — two side-by-side facilities financed by a 2014 bond package and located near the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and the Rangers’ Globe Life Park. The complex will house a 1,200-seat arena for wrestling, basketball and volleyball, thereby creating new opportunities to enhance Arlington’s status as a prime destination for a variety of sporting events that cater to a broad range of skills.

But the real gem of the $40.7 million facility will be the natatorium (a first for Arlington). It will feature a 50-meter pool with moveable bulkheads, a diving area, a warm-up pool and seating for 1,000 spectators.

“This will put us on the competitive swimming and diving map, right in between both coasts,” Wilson says. “We have never touched that category. Now, we can introduce the city to a new segment of sports, competitive swimming, and fill those empty dates when the school district isn’t using the pool.”

Many high-profile aquatics events in the state are held at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus, but Wilson says the new Arlington facility will help satisfy the increasing interest in bringing more swimming and diving events to Texas.

“There’s such great demand for swimming facilities,” he says. “We could build two aquatics facilities and have them both full.”

Fields of Opportunity
Wilson feels the same way about Arlington’s outdoor sports fields. “We could add 20 more fields and have them all full,” he says.
The Harold Patterson Sports Center offers 135 acres, which include 12 baseball fields that convert to six football fields during the fall and winter, as well as 11 large soccer fields, 12 small soccer fields, four adult softball fields and two youth softball fields, as well as a pavilion, a playground, restrooms and concessions areas, and ample parking. All fields except the two youth softball diamonds have lights.

Dedicated in 1990 and named for former mayor and lifelong Arlington resident Harold Patterson, the facility stands as a testament to his legacy. The city’s population nearly doubled under his tenure, and he began building Arlington’s economic base via a tourism industry that today is stronger than ever.

The Harold Patterson Sports Center hosts many traditional youth and adult tournaments every year, as does Randol Mill Park — a facility Wilson says recently transitioned to a more tournament-friendly site, with two large baseball fields, two small baseball fields, four adult softball fields and a Miracle Field for softball teams whose players have mobility challenges.

True to the Arlington Sports Commission’s mission, the Harold Patterson Sports Center in February welcomed the US Quidditch Southwest Regional Championship, attracting teams from several surrounding states and bolstering a sport that has gained international renown as a fast-paced, gender-integrated and full-contact adaptation of the game from the Harry Potter books. Quidditch is played with seven players to a team, all mounted on brooms. They score points with the quaffle (a volleyball) and the snitch, a neutral yellow-clad athlete who tries to avoid capture (similar to flag football).

Another non-traditional sport, Australian football, has found plenty of friends in Arlington, too. In April, the United States Australian Football Club held a training camp and tryouts at Arlington High School, offering participants the opportunity to nab a roster spot on the USA Revolution, the men’s United States Australian Football National Team.

Of course, we’re talking about Texas, so American football still reigns supreme in Arlington. AT&T Stadium in January hosted the 10th annual International Bowl Series, with 16 high school-age football teams representing nine countries on three continents. This was the fifth consecutive year Arlington welcomed the USA Football-sanctioned tournament, which included eight U.S. national teams competing against teams from Canada, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Esports and the Entertainment District
No profile of the city would be complete without including the $10.5 million Esports Stadium Arlington — a 100,000-square-foot facility dedicated to live competitive gaming that features cutting-edge LED displays that are custom-made for presenting video games to a mass audience.

The flexible venue opened in late 2018 and doubles as a meeting space for conferences and presentations, with an interior design that has been likened to a TED Talks stage.

“We are creating the most unique and technologically advanced space available for meetings and conventions in North Texas. The production capabilities and technological innovations … are like nothing the market has seen before,” Ron Price, president and CEO of the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau, said at the time the Esports Stadium Arlington was announced. “Arlington’s ability to deliver an elevated customer experience can only serve to expand the meeting and convention market for the city.”

The venue has delivered on that promise, hosting everything from national esports championships to high-profile car shows.

Another first-of-its-kind venue in Arlington opened earlier this year. The Texas Rangers Golf Club is the world’s only Major League Baseball-branded golf course, making the city a bucket-list stop for avid golfers and a sought-after destination for national tournament organizers. The 18-hole course — a $24 million project that involved the total renovation and updated routing of an existing golf course — is located near Arlington’s burgeoning entertainment district.

The most notable forthcoming addition to downtown Arlington will be Globe Life Field, the $1.1 billion baseball stadium currently under construction as the new home of the Rangers beginning in 2020. Incidentally, after the Rangers relocate to their new home, Globe Life Park will undergo significant renovations to make it capable of hosting more baseball competitions, as well as XFL football, soccer and other sports.

Arlington boasts about 6,000 hotel rooms — with rates that meet different levels and needs, more so than those in neighboring Dallas and Fort Worth, according to Wilson. And, for those visitors seeking a high-end luxury hotel experience in the heart of Arlington’s entertainment district, a 14-story, 300-room Live! By Loews hotel opens in late August and features a 35,000-square-foot Grand Event Center.

As Arlington’s sports tourism sector continues to expand, Wilson expects other hotels to appear in the area. “We are a destination that continues to be growing, and that makes us of great interest to more developers,” he says.

No wonder. There are more than $5 billion worth of improvements taking place in Arlington right now, according to Wilson. Not all of the upgrades are sports-related, but they do play a significant role in boosting the city’s overall economic impact.

“Things are now being built that we have needed for a long time. We have the right recipe right now that is making things happen.” Wilson says. “The [Dallas] Cowboys moving here in 2009 was a huge boon to the city. People started to take more notice of Arlington. And we aren’t done yet.” SDM

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